By Ellen Eisenberg

By Ellen Eisenberg, Executive Director of The Professional Institute for Instructional Coaching (TPIIC)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


School is almost out for the summer! I bet you can’t believe it’s mid-June already… how time flies when you are having a good time! Or, how fast the days fly as you lament how much more you need to do..

That’s good news and bad news… the bad news is that the year is over and what didn’t get accomplished or addressed this year won’t get done; the good news is that you now have to time to really think about your practices and catch up on the reading you’ve neglected all year.

Wherever you are in the “end-of-year” mode, take the next 8 weeks to relax, rejuvenate, rejoice, and replenish the empathy, integrity, fidelity, and creativity that you need for the 2018-2019 school year. Have a wonderful summer… I’ll still blog but only between reading the books that have made my never-ending list. 

Enjoy the summer and see you in August!


Monday, June 4, 2018

Last month, I wrote a blog about facilitating collegial classroom visits while the coach covers the visiting teacher’s classes. I wanted to continue the thread because I think there’s more to be said. The question I asked at the end of the blog was how could coaches facilitate visitations to foster ongoing conversations about practice? It must have hit home because I’ve had some email inquiries asking me how that process could be accomplished without coaches becoming a substitute for those teachers visiting others.

It really is a challenging issue and a conundrum… coaches want to promote professional growth for all and how can they do that if they are not willing to cover classes? If that were only the case, I could answer it in a few words. But asking that question makes me wonder about the shared understanding of the coaching role. Does the staff understand that coaching is not an “extra pair of hands” but rather a deliberate process that involves thinking, planning, collaboration, facilitation and presentation, and debriefing? Do they understand about collective problem-solving, clear communication, and confidentiality?

Every coach I know would gladly cover classes in an emergency. We all would… all hands-on deck! But for a planned event, e.g., a classroom visitation, that’s not an emergency. When planning visitations, a schedule is needed just like any other planned trip. After all, are coaches expected to cover classes when a field trip is scheduled? If that’s the case, I fear that the coach as a valuable resource is misunderstood, misused, and just plan missed!

So, how does a coach help a teacher visit other colleagues? 1) Bring teachers together to discuss how to schedule visitations and make a plan. 2) If they are willing, perhaps visiting during a prep period works, especially in a block schedule where the visit can be part of the class period; 3) Ask teachers if they are willing to trade coverage periods, e.g., I’ll cover for you if you cover for me; 4) See who else in the building is available, e.g., a counselor who wants to see students in action, a coordinator who doesn’t get a chance to see how students work together, perhaps a librarian who would love to take some time and do a library scavenger hunt with students, or an administrator who wants to get back in touch with students. None of these suggestions are perfect but they could work if the coach and teachers collaborate, discuss the goals of the visitation, and plan a course of action.

How do you or coaches you know schedule classroom visitations in your building?

Thursday, May 17, 2018


One of the responsibilities that some coaches have assumed is offering to cover classes of teachers who want to visit other classrooms. While I think the offer is well intentioned, covering classes is not. Here’s why… when an instructional coach and teacher talk about practice and suggest visiting another colleague’s classroom to see the practice in real time, both parties need to see the same thing at the same time or the translation of what happened will only be seen through one person’s eyes. The feedback will be one-sided, leaving no opportunity for the coach to ask the kinds of questions that promote deep reflection because the coach wasn’t there to bring attention to something that might be overlooked by the visiting teacher.

The undeniable benefit of working with a coach is to talk about the practice viewed by both parties where both have goals for watching that practice. If one of the two is not present, the “analysis” of what happened in that classroom is translated rather than experienced firsthand. The actions are shared via a filter of the person saying what happened. If a teacher tells the coach what happened rather than the coach seeing it firsthand, is the interpretation of events unconsciously biased?

The other issue about one colleague visiting another colleague’s class is the idea of a visit without a “before” conversation. Does the visiting teacher participate in a “before” with the colleague to become acquainted with the lesson’s goals or does the teacher visit without that benefit? How does the visiting teacher know the goals and reflect upon whether the classroom goals were met if there was no pre-visit conversation?

As professional practitioners, we want to share our learning. How we do so is critical. If an administrator assigns a sub to cover a class or colleagues exchange visits so that the coach can accompany each person involved in the visitation schedule, that’s a much more effective way to encourage classroom visits and provide opportunities for the coach to engage in ongoing conversations about practice in a truly collaborative environment.

How can coaches facilitate the opportunity for colleagues to visit their peers in order to foster conversations about classroom practice and student growth?

Friday, May 4, 2018


In a recent webinar about asking the right kind of questions in a coaching interaction, one participant suggested this question, “What are you struggling with right now?” As much as I think that question might open a dialogue, I’m concerned because it sounds like the interviewer (coach) assumes the person (teacher) with whom s/he is engaged in conversation is struggling with something.  That sounds like a deficit model to me and that’s the antithesis of effective instructional coaching.

Not every conversation is based on a struggle… a challenge, maybe, but not necessarily a struggle. For instance, I may be engaged in a conversation with an art teacher who wants to expose her/his students to multiple artists from the same time period who use different approaches in their work. Does that mean I’m struggling with something specific or does that mean that I’m interested in discussing a variety of ways to approach the goals for the lesson? I say it’s the latter… I want to engage in a conversation with the coach around multiple perspectives with a multitude of artists… not necessarily a struggle.

Coaches need to demonstrate and model that conversations are borne out of interest and need, not just need. It is a balance between thinking about what we want to do and debriefing about what just happened. We want to establish relationships with our teaching colleagues that offer opportunities to engage in conversation around effective instructional practices, not just those practices that may be indicative of struggle. Remember, coaching is not a deficit model; it’s a model that focuses on helping teachers get better at their craft, not a “fixit” model to correct something that is wrong.

So, be mindful that conversations in the planning stage, or the “before” are not always about problems; conversations, however, in the debriefing or the “after” are always related to the data collection and classroom visit co-planned by the teacher and coach.

How do you balance the questions you ask so that they are not focusing on specific challenges but rather on conversations that focus on data to improve practice?

Monday, April 16, 2018


Going to an international conference is awesome. We just returned from presenting at the ASCD Empower 18 Conference in Boston and met so many like-minded practitioners… it was incredible to see how many coaches and administrators were at the conference. Instructional Coaching is truly becoming a household word! And, we almost sold out of our book!!

What really struck me was the variety of definitions for instructional coaching. I always say if you put 10 people in a room and ask them to define the instructional coaching role, there would be 10 different definitions… my thinking was confirmed!

The variations ran the gamut… coaches pulling out students for tutoring, discipline, and missed assignments to coaches described as helping hands so they duplicate materials, go on trips, sit in on IEPs as the teacher on record, and “judge” various school contests, all part of their “coaching” roles. Some coaches do not get a chance to meet one-on-one with their teaching colleagues because coaching is voluntary, and some teachers still think the coach’s visit is an observation. (That’s why we differentiate between coach visits and administrative observations.)

What’s clear to me about the cloudy description of the coaching role is that we need to ensure that everyone in the school community understands what instructional coaching is, how it can benefit the students, teachers, and school. We need to focus on how coaching can help the school community achieve individual and collective goals. We need to build awareness and then remind our “investors” that instructional coaching is a job-embedded teacher professional development model that is a confidential, safe, non-evaluative way to help student learning and teacher practice grow. It’s not a deficit model but rather a model that honors both the students and teachers by providing ample opportunities for learning to take place at all levels, every day, all day. 

We need to remind ourselves that each and every day, coaches help teachers change and improve their practice and increase student engagement and outcomes. If we do that every day, we are on the right path.

How do you ensure that your school community understands how instructional coaching helps achieve school wide improvement and recognizes your coaching role in that process ?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


How do you handle an angry or negative response to a question you asked? This question surfaced at a recent webinar.

That never happens, right? WRONG! This situation can absolutely happen, especially if the coaching relationship has not been established and the coach is not viewed as a trusted colleague. How the coach handles the situation makes all the difference in establishing a healthy coaching relationship.

If the coach is not familiar with the teacher’s beliefs and practices, then most likely, there has not been a conversation about how those beliefs influence practice. Without that conversation, how does the coach know which approach to the coaching interaction will “feel” appropriate? If there has not been a conversation about how students learn and grow, then the questions the coach asks could be perceived as intimidating and threatening. To avoid this situation, coaches must establish relationships with their teaching colleagues and help them understand the role and function of an instructional coach before they engage in conversations about practice. That's the "before the before" conversation!

How about this…If the coaching conversation is mandated by the principal, the teacher’s response might not be warm and fuzzy. After all, how many teachers are comfortable being forced to have a conversation about their teaching skills when they don’t know if the coach is evaluating them and reporting to the principal? The coach must build trust before asking questions. On the other hand, if the coach’s role has been shared and made explicit to the staff with the coach making his/her expectations visible and then the principal suggests that the teacher contact the instructional coach for support, that would most likely result in a positive response.

Remember, coaching is not a “fixit” model. Coaches are not there to “fix” what’s wrong with anyone’s instructional delivery. The coach is there as a trusted colleague, an experienced practitioner who helps teachers recognize their full potential and take ownership of their own learning. The coach helps guide; the teacher does the rest. 

How have you handled a response that was angry or negative? How did you turn that around into something positive?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


In the December 2017 issue of The Learning Professional, Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh reiterates what we know about collaboration and adult learning; that is, learning is social and learning together makes a difference. Unfortunately, just getting together without clear goals and actionable items, does not make a collaborative approach particularly useful or effective.

Stephanie suggests five important fundamentals to integrate when developing the standards for collaborative work: 1) Clarity of purpose where teachers can share intentional goals for the learning and make deliberate plans to work together towards achieving these goals. A shared vision creates a community. These goals are meaningful and not amorphous. They lead towards action; 2) Norms of collaboration where colleagues respect one another and collectively decide what is important and how the goals will be achieved; 3) Resource allocation is critical and where administration plays an important role. Teacher teams need to be given ample opportunities to work together in an environment that welcomes creativity and collective problem solving. The teachers’ voices need to be heard and honored in a non-evaluative setting; creative problem-solving where a variety of perspectives are shared helps encourage “thinking out of the box”; 4) Facilitation and support are essential in keeping the flow of the meeting moving in a positive direction; the place for venting is different than a place for making recommendations for school wide improvement. Facilitation is a skill and it is different from presenting a professional development session; 5) Accountability for results is important when collective responsibility is the norm and all staff are considered members in a community of learning and practice… one for all and all for one!

As a coach, which of these fundamentals are you able to encourage in your school wide collaborative planning?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


My son recently sent me a few blogs about the growth of technology companies and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the attributes the managers of the tech companies seek in their employees and the striking similarities to the field of instructional coaching. They want employees who can handle freedom (take initiative), accept personal accountability (be at the right place at the right time), and possess a constructive measure of humility (they appreciate learning from others).  I would venture to say that these attributes are closely aligned to what we believe is important for instructional coaches and implementing an effective instructional coaching model.

I was intrigued by the companies who intentionally design their top-level management structures to include ways to break down the silos that force separation of information. It appears they are trying to help their employees create collaborative environments that encourage shared thinking around data so that all perspectives can be taken into consideration when designing company-wide improvements and identifying industry trends. They are highlighting the merits of the team approach and collective responsibility, all the while keeping the “client or customer” front and center.

If that doesn’t sound like what we are trying to accomplish with instructional coaching, I don’t know what does!

What are some strategies you have encouraged in your school to enhance collaboration and shared thinking? How does this collective thinking help achieve your school wide improvement goals?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ever the English teacher, I’m drawn to articles, blogs, and commentaries about what amazing things happen in the English classroom where students are reading the literature that set my heart on fire so many years ago (and continues to do so!) as a student in a large urban school district. In fact, I’m drawn to anything and everything that shares innovative ideas that engage students, regardless of the content areas!

I’ve been reading a lot about how schools can help students engage more in their learning. Of course, we all want students to take ownership of their learning and try to offer them multiple opportunities for self-directed learning. We want them to WANT to learn; we want them to LIKE school. Unfortunately, some students are disenfranchised, and their teachers might not know how to pull them back into a learning mode. They might not know a variety of ways to provide “peak moments” (borrowed from Education Week, January 18) in learning. You know, peak moments like the one I experienced when our book was published! (I will never forget that celebratory moment.)

Students can experience those peak moments if their teachers are able to create ongoing instances for those moments to occur. Here’s why instructional coaching is so critical… instructional coaches create the circumstances where colleagues collaborate and talk about practice. The more teaching colleagues talk about teaching and learning, the more likely it is that those “peak moments” can become the norm in classrooms. Sharing ideas and multiple ways to approach effective instructional delivery is essential for student and teacher success.


As a coach, how do you help teachers create those “peak moments” that define the classroom experience?

Monday, January 15, 2018


We just returned from another amazing 3-day Professional Learning Conference from the PA Institute for Instructional Coaching (PIIC). This is the only conference that I know about where the presenters and facilitators are the practitioners in the schools represented at the conference! They truly show that the collective wisdom of any room where they are collaborating is chock full of incredible talents, insights, and multiple skill sets. The power in those sessions with such skilled coaches, mentors, and other school leaders was palpable. It was an interactive, collegial atmosphere where no one feared what they didn’t know… everyone just absorbed and shared their learnings in rooms full of like-minded professionals.

Every experience level from novice to advanced was represented in our 24 breakout sessions. The sessions were all geared to helping instructional coaches help teachers move their students forward while moving their own practice forward. It was a time and place for the coaches and their colleagues from across the state to talk about practice and how to navigate statewide initiatives for which they are responsibly supporting. It was a time and place for all the participants to discuss what they were doing, how to do “it,” and share ways to continue learning and growing.

One thing that was clear during the mini discussions I had with coaches was that in schools where the coaching role and model were not discussed prior to implementation and a shared vision for school wide improvement made visible, the struggle with helping the staff understand how coaching can help the school community accomplish the school wide goals for improvement continues to be a barrier to effective implementation.

If your school has not shared the vision with the staff, it’s not too late. In fact, a mid-year review is a perfect time to remind, or in some cases build awareness, of how instructional coaching is a job-embedded professional development/learning model for teachers. Don’t let the rest of the year go by without reminding the staff what you do, how you do “it,” and why you do “it.”

How do you continually remind the staff of your role and your instructional coaching responsibilities?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year! As we embark on this new year, I bet we all have resolutions that if we are lucky, we haven’t broken yet! Several of my friends talk about getting in shape and being healthy. Of all the people who talk about resolutions, however, no one ever said to me that the goal was to work harder in school! Imagine that!!

But, I do get a lot of “What am I supposed to do” and “How do I do ‘it’ when so many other things cry for attention.

It’s all about priorities and a shared vision for school wide improvement. What do the stakeholders in your school think about student achievement and building teacher capacity? What do they think about the notion of teachers working together to plan, deliver, and debrief their instructional practices?

First things first… how do we define instructional coaching? Have we made our school staff aware that Instructional coaching is a sustainable teacher professional development model designed to help teachers get better at what they do? Have we reminded them that coaching is part of a whole-school improvement strategy that fosters collective problem-solving and offers highly targeted professional development embedded in teachers’ daily work. Have we demonstrated how Instructional coaches provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and school leaders focused on classroom practices to increase student engagement, build teacher capacity and improve student learning? It’s mid-year… take some time to remind your staff why instructional coaching is so important to the health of your school.

There is a joint ownership for student and staff learning. Coaches help create and support this idea. Changing perceptions can be challenging though and coaches need to practice and advocate how non-evaluative practices are collaborative, confidential, and critical to success. They must show that changing practice creates a change in belief. It’s a great time of year to re-adjust our thinking and actions.


How do you help the stakeholders in your school understand what you do and how you do “it”?